Mechanizing Friendship in ‘Slayer Shock’

In Slayer Shock, you’re so hyper-focused on vampire-slaying that friendships turn into utilitarian mechanics.

Written by M. Joshua Cauller

Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer when you hear the words, Slayer Shock. It’ll get into the brain-space of the stake-wielding slayer: whose attention is split between hunting vampires and taking care of friends. Problem is, you’re so hyper-focused on vampire-slaying that friendships turn into utilitarian mechanics.

Donning my wooden stake, a flash camera, and a Nerf gun (retrofitted with spiked wooden tips), I dive into Logan’s Woods to rescue a set of hostages from elite vampires. Sticking to the shadows, I slide-dash behind cover every chance I get, trying to line up a clear backstab on one of those fancy suckers.

". . .the deepest thing a “friend” can do is affect the overarching mechanics of the game; and make life better for the player."
Just as I’m closing-in for a stealthy stab, I hear a shriek: one of the elite’s minions comes straight for me, alerting two others near by—and the elite vampire himself. Chaos ensues. I switch to the Nerf gun and go full-auto on them: stake-tipped foam darts flying. Just as I need to reload, I remember my camera, flash them all, and then start stabbing with my stake as they’re stunned.

They go down. I turn to rescue the hostage, but I notice that she must have been killed by one of the vampires while I was trying to go all Rambo. But I’m not worried. There’s seven more hostages I can rescue and I only need to save five. No biggie.

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Back at the cafe, I share my findings with my friends. By that I mean that I use the vampire dust I found to trade goods and services — reducing our friendly hangout to a marketplace.

I ask my “mentor,” Lindsay how I can carry three field bandages instead of two: “That’ll be 500 vampire dust, please.” Boom: now every time I raid a vampire chest, I find extra bandages. Worth it. I talk to my weaponsmith “friend,” Benjamin, asking him for more wooden stake ammo for my Nerf gun—260 vampire dust. I drop him the dust without thinking to ask him what he’s gonna use it for. Then I ask my researcher, Ryan to do his “friendly service” of tracking down the Big Bads, the vampires who rule this Season. You guessed it, Ryan needs 350 vampire dust down, then 1,000 for tracking them down. Plus, 500 for researching a weakness. Friendship gets expensive.

None of this hurts too much, because as a video game, it creates an ultra-compelling loop. I had a hard time stopping each time I played Slayer Shock, as my Buffy-like avatar got faster, stronger, jumped higher, and hunted with deadlier, stealthier precision. However, this loop also pointed out the challenge that videogames face as they adopt material for social dynamics. Turning friendships into an exchange of services reduces what makes them special.

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Sadly, however, I’m super-guilty of treating my real-world friendships as a bag of mechanics used to dole-out objectives and services for trade—and I’ve not stopped. Just last week, I needed some help with installing baby gates in my house because our seven-month old is turning into quite the explorer. So I called Wayne, who thinks of drilling holes into walls as a second nature. He gladly obliged. My wife and I returned the favor by providing Wayne and his wife with food. This isn’t an overtly bad thing, but I have to be honest: I wouldn’t have thought to invite Wayne and Tina over for lunch had I not asked Wayne for the services we needed.

Slayer Shock has got me thinking a ton about how to grow in friendship, and not just see one another as potential trade partners or service providers. Videogames can do some incredible things with character, personality, dialogue and story — but as a player interaction, the deepest thing a “friend” can do is affect the overarching mechanics of the game; and make life better for the player. I’d love to think that there’s more to how friendships work beyond satisfying mutual wants and needs, but I’m honestly not sure that I have that figured out. In the meantime, check out Slayer Shock. It’s out today. It’s the most immersive Buffy simulator you’ll find—and the friendship systems transform you into you a powerful vampire huntress.